Police Systematically Removing Bicycle Crossings Around Tokyo

Over the past few days I've been informed by many concerned readers that they have witnessed workers removing bicycle crossings from streets all around Tokyo and they want to know whats going on.

This comes as little surprise as in May 2012 the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) released a statement which revealed they were planning to remove over 10,000 of Tokyo's 15,000 bicycle crossings from intersections by 2014 to encourage cyclists to use the streets. Over summer crossings slowly began to disappear, but with the end of the year little over a month away, work crews hit the streets in November and crossings all around the city are being removed at an alarming rate.

What was once a bicycle crossing in Tokyo.
Photo: Scout Hatfield
I'm astounded by the reasoning of the police. A representative of the Metropolitan Police Department actually said "We want to quickly start removal so that bicycles can travel roads safely,". What? Removing cycling infrastructure from the sidewalks will somehow make cycling on the roads safer? Sounds to me like someone at the MPD has been into the confiscated drugs.

The stated aim of removing bicycle crossings is to get more cyclists off the sidewalks and onto the streets, but if you've observed any Tokyo intersection you'll notice that the bicycle crossings are currently ignored by cyclists and pedestrians alike. What affect will removing them have if they're already universally ignored? How is anything change cycling on the sidewalks supposed to make the roads safer?

Cyclists in Japan will continue to cycle on the sidewalks until such time as there is alternative, safe infrastructure on Japan's roads and they fully understand how to utilise it. I've stated it a million times in the past "Japanese roads are not ready for Japanese cyclists, nor are Japanese cyclists ready for the roads".

On May 17 2012, the MPD announced that 5,685 accidents involving bicycles occurred in Tokyo from January to April (2012), 12 percent fewer than during the same period the previous year. There were 20 percent fewer accidents on sidewalks and 23 percent fewer at intersections, but accidents on the road increased by 7 percent. As to whether the changes were due to the department's announcement that cyclists must generally ride on the street, a traffic affairs department official said, "More analysis is needed."

Workers erase a bicycle crossing in Tokyo.
Photo: John Crossley
So according to the Police Department's very own data, accidents involving bicycles are going down, accidents on the sidewalks are going down, and accidents at intersections are going down, but since the MPD began recommending cyclists ride on the road accidents on the road have increased by 7%. Astonishingly the police refuse to recognise the spike in on road accidents directly relates to their efforts to get cyclists off the sidewalks!

If, after the removal of the crossings, police decide to take a hard line on sidewalk cyclists one of two things will happen. 1) Without alternative safe cycling infrastructure the general populace will simply ignore the police as they have on a number of past ill informed rulings and nothing will change, or 2) The number of on road accidents between cyclists and motor vehicles will soar because there is no safe cycling infrastructure in Tokyo.

What is it that the Metropolitan Police department don't get? When will they understand that while they faff about making new laws, which they never enforce, the Japanese public are getting on with life cycling under their own, culturally accepted, set of rules which have evolved from decades of practical bicycle usage. Whenever the police get involved they confuse the issue by enforcing laws nobody has observed for decades because they're irrelevant, impractical, and don't meet with society's needs.

When it comes to cycling laws the policy makers are so out of touch with reality they're totally irrelevant.

Educate the public, provide them with safe cycling infrastructure, develop cycling laws designed to protect not punish cyclists and enforce those laws consistently. Admittedly I haven't given it a lot of thought, but surely that would go much further towards making our roads safer than removing already irrelevant bicycle crossings.



How to Register Your Bicycle in Japan

Japan has an interesting bicycle registration system. Interesting because while registration is compulsory there are no penalties for not doing so. Even though this is the case I do strongly recommend you register your bicycle, so here is all you need to know about registering your bicycle in Japan.

Buying a New Bicycle at a Bike Store

When you purchase a new bicycle at our local bike store the salesperson will offer to register your bicycle for an additional 500 yen fee. If you decide to register your bicycle at the time of purchase you will be asked to fill out a form with details including your name, phone number and address and details about the bicycle including maker and serial number etc.  Finally you will have to present a valid form of ID.

Once done the shop assistant will place a bright yellow registration sticker on your new bicycle and you're ready to ride. Easy! They will also give you a receipt which you should hold on to for a while just in case you're stopped by police before your registration information has entered the police records.

Japanese bicycle registration sticker
Japanese Bicycle Registration Sticker

Buying a New Bicycle Online

After purchasing a bicycle online it is your responsibility to visit the police, fill out the aforementioned form and show the police your receipt of purchase and valid ID which they will use to confirm that you are the rightful owner of the bicycle.

Buying a Used Bicycle

When purchasing a use bicycle you will have to visit your local police koban with your bicycle and fill out an identical form as you would had you purchased your bicycle new from a bike store and you'll have to pay the same registration fee. But as this is a used bicycle the beaurocratic fun doesn't stop there. Both you and the previous owner of the bicycle will have to fill out an additional form confirming the transfer of ownership.

Transfer of ownership sounds complicated and time consuming, but it isn't. When you go to purchase your second hand bicycle print out this change of ownership form and take it with you, once you've completed the deal, get the former owner to fill out their portion of the form. If you purchase a used bicycle in Japan and do not get the owner to fill out this form then it is unlikely that you will be able to transfer ownership into your name.

If you have suspicions that the person selling you a second hand bicycle is not the registered owner you should not purchase the bicycle. If you try to transfer ownership of a bicycle using a form with fake seller information the bicycle will be confiscated and returned to its rightful owner, and you may even be charged with stealing the bicycle even if you protest that you bought it second hand from someone who claimed to be the owner.

Bringing a Bicycle from Overseas

Not surprisingly when the bicycle registration system was conceived nobody considered the fact that people may move to Japan and bring with them unregistered bicycles and as a result there is no formal system for registering a bicycle you've bought into the country. It is possible that if you take your bicycle, passport and if possible a photograph or two of you and your bicycle overseas and explain your case to the police then you may be able to register the bicycle.  I've not tried this method, so if you do please do let me know how it goes.

If you're here for just a few weeks or months on a bicycle tour with your unregistered bicycle your very appearance will be enough to convince any suspicious police officer that you're only here temporarily. If that doesn't convince them then showing them your passport should be enough to deter any further suspicion.

Once Registered

If your bicycle is stolen and later abandoned, or the police stop someone and discover the bicycle is registered to you, not them then they will contact you to reclaim your stolen bicycle.

Failing to Register

While there is no penalty for not registering a bicycle, if you're ever stopped by the police for a bicycle registration check things will get very complicated very quickly and you could be accused of having stolen the bicycle you're riding even if you are the rightful owner.

While it may seem to some an invasion of privacy, or unnecessary bureaucracy to some I believe the advantages of registering a bicycle far outweigh the disadvantages so please do go out of your way to ensure that police records accurately list you as the rightful owner of your bicycle.

For more information about the Japans bicycle registration system and to download the necessary forms please visit Tokyo Bicycle Crime Prevention Association's web site.

For more stories, news and information about cycling in Tokyo and around Japan follow @tokyobybike on twitter.


Seven Kinds of Japanese Cyclists That Make Me Smile

A mother cycling on a mamachari with her child in Tokyo, Japan
I've spent too much time of late slamming the bad habits of Japanese cyclists on this blog, so I'd like to take this opportunity to remind you that I love cycling in Japan, I love that cycling is such a natural part of everyday life in Japan and I love the wide variety of people who cycle here in Japan.

So to lighten the mood and focus on the good, here is a list of Japanese cyclists I love a little more than most:

1) Parents With Kids.

I cycle to work each morning as mothers are dropping their children off kindergarten by bicycle. Nothing makes me smile more than seeing parents cycling with children in seats front and back smiling, laughing and chatting away happily. This practise is much derided by people who have not experienced the delight of singing nursery rhymes at the top of their lungs while cycling with their children front and back. Its a wonderful practise and one I hope is never legislated out of existence.

2) Teenagers In Love.

Sure its illegal, but there is something lovely about seeing a young couple sharing a bicycle. Usually, but not always, the boy is pedalling away in the saddle while the girl sits on the back of the bicycle, sometimes with her arms around her suitor, other times she sits elegantly balanced side-saddle on the rack. On occasion the girl will stand on axle spikes (also illegal, and not at all romantic sounding) while resting her hands on the shoulders of the boy. Who was the heartless bureaucrat who deemed this innocent practise, one which all teenagers should experience, illegal?

3) Elderly People In Love.

Perhaps even more endearing than teenagers in love is the sight of a well dressed old man cycling by with the love of his life dressed in her Sunday best perched side-saddle on the back of his bicycle. If that doesn't make you smile then you must be one of the aforementioned heartless bureaucrats. I love that they're in love, I love that they still choose the bicycle for transport given their advanced age, and I love that they proudly stick it to the man by breaking the law.

4) Children On Bikes.

As a child growing up in Australia my bicycle represented freedom, I could go further faster with a bicycle than I could on foot. The bicycle gave me independence. I always smile when I see small children cycling to their after school activities, sports practise other events in Tokyo. I love that children choose to cycle and that the neighbourhoods are still safe enough for children to venture out alone.

5) Gadget Lovers.

There is one in every neighbourhood, the man who has kitted his bicycle out with every accessory imaginable, most scavenged from abandoned bicycles. Racks, mudguards, baskets (front, back and side), lights, holders for folded umbrellas, holders for open umbrellas, drink holders, bottle cages, bells, horns, mittens in the winter and electric fans in the summer.  He collects hundreds of spoke reflectors and insists on placing them all on his wheels at once. If you don't see him cycling by in his fisherman's vest with pockets for every other accessory, you'll certainly be able to locate him via the loudly blaring transistor radio in his front basket. I love that he loves his bike gear so much that he needs ALL of it on his bike ALL of the time.

6) Polite Bell Ringers.

It's no secret that Japanese cyclists are more at home on the sidewalk than on the roads. As a pedestrian its annoying, and sometimes startling, to hear the screech of brakes and a loud, aggressive, bell ringing close behind you. The bell is like a car horn, there are subtle differences between a polite toot and a "get the F&%K out of my way you moron" blast. When walking I've no problem moving aside for a polite bell ringer.

7) Unicyclists.

Yes, you read right. Elementary School children in Japan, in particular girls, go through a distinct unicycling phase. Both my daughters can ride a unicycle and I think that's awesome. Mastering the unicycle seemed impossible but they practised hard for months and now they can unicycle anywhere with apparent ease. Unicycling may have little practical value, but whenever my daughters feel like a goal is out of their reach I remind them of how they practised hard and overcame the seemingly impossible task of becoming skilled unicyclists. Learning to unicycle teaches children that with hard work and perseverance they can achieve anything. How can you not love that?

Sure its easy to focus on the negative cyclists in society, but they give the majority a bad name, I'd like to hear some positive cycling experiences from Tokyo, Japan and around the world for a change. Who are the cyclists you love and why?



Brakeless Cyclist Arrested in Japan, Confusion Over Law Remains

Police in Tokyo have arrested a 31 year old man for riding a bicycle without brakes on the rear wheel in violation of a new Road Traffic Act law which was introduced at the beginning of the  year.

At the time the law was introduced Japan's police announced that they intended to prosecute cyclists who repeatedly violate road traffic laws, the key word here being "repeatedly" as most cyclists are merely let off with a warning when police decide to act on an infringement. This marks the first arrest under the new ruling.

Policeman on a bicycle in Tokyo, Japan

Both Japanese and English versions of the article reporting this incident state the cyclist was "arrested after defying repeated requests by police", yet the man told police he "had no idea he would be arrested for riding the brakeless competition bike." So which is it? Is this poor reporting, poor policing, or a feeble attempt by the cyclist to escape punishment? Maybe we'll never know.

Other articles covering the incident state that bicycles must have both front and rear brakes under Japanese law, yet I've been led to believe that a single rear brake is all that is legally required. As it is now illegal to sell brakeless bicycles in Japan, and bicycle stores still sell bicycles with a single coaster brake on the rear wheel isn't it safe to assume that only a single rear brake is required?

If not then this isn't the only Japanese cycling law which is out of step with society. Under Japanese law carrying an adult passenger on a bicycle is illegal but when the law was drafted nobody considered tandem bicycles and thus it is technically illegal to ride a tandem bicycle in the majority of Japanese prefectures, yet they're sold freely in bicycle stores.

Once again confusion about the finer points of the law remains. Each time a new law is introduced, such as the recent law requiring cyclists to cycle on the left hand side of roads without sidewalks, but with pedestrian side lanes, the police have no convenient means for publicising the law therefore it goes mostly unpunished as cyclists argue they were never informed of the new ruling.

Efforts have to be made by the authorities to educate the public about new and existing cycling laws. Children can be taught in schools, but adults are harder to reach. As children learn cycling rules by observing adults they will eventually emulate the mistakes of the previous generation.

It seems to me that before cracking down in cyclists police need to crack down on shoddy reporting which causes confusion among the general public, because as it stands newspapers are the only avenue through which the public learn of new laws. Ideally the government needs to commit to educating the public about how to ride safely and legally, possibly through an extensive campaign of television advertisements, its the only way to ensure that the message reaches the majority of the population. This should be a priority task for our new Bicycle Promotion Ministry if it ever comes to be.

Remember, until they're widely and consistently enforced Japanese cycling "laws" are more like "suggestions" and you'd be better off observing the rule I adhere to daily: Exercise some common sense and ride safely.



How to Turn any Mountain Bike into a Commuter Bike

Thinking of buying a commuter bike? Have a mountain bike in the garage but don't think its suitable for cycling to work? Then think again, because with just a few easy modifications any old mountain bike can be resurrected as a lighter faster commuter vehicle saving you a lot of money in the process.

Mountain bike converted into a commuter bike. Tokyo By Bike.

Replace Your Tires

The very first thing to do is get rid of those big, heavy, off road tires because while they're essential on the dirt, on the road they just add weight, drag and slow you down.  Replace them with a the narrowest slick or semi slick tire you can fit on your rim. Believe me you'll notice a immediate difference in the weight, speed and feel of your bicycle by taking this simple step alone.

I have two mountain bikes set up for city riding, one is a GIANT MCMone with 26x1.25 Specialized Fat Boy slick tires. The other is an Cannondale F300 which I recently fitted with semi-slick 26x1.25 Schwalbe GreenGuard tires. Despite being the same size the Marathon tires are heavier and slower than the Fat Boys, primarily due to the fact that they're virtually indestructible. If you're commuting on a daily basis and don't want to constantly worried about puncturing your tubes I'd highly recommend trading some speed and weight for the security of a tougher tire.

When fitting narrower tires you'll most likely have to use a different sized tube, so take this opportunity to switch to a pair of puncture resistant tubes. When it comes time to put air in your new tires be sure to pump them up hard, really hard, this will make a huge difference in reducing the rolling resistance of your bike.

If you're not confident on a thinner tire or aren't willing to give up the comfort of a wide tire, even a fat tire with less tread will result in an immediate improvement in speed on the roads.

I can not stress enough what a difference narrow, slick tires will make to you ride.  Just a small investment in tires will breathe new life into any mountain bike. Try it, you'll be surprised.

Fenders (Mud guards)

Despite the fact mountain bikes are designed to be used in the mud and dirt, few come equipped with fenders, the primary reason being that mud will quickly lodge itself between the fender and your tire and before you know it your wheel will no longer turn. As an urban bicycle commuter getting your bicycle clogged up with mud shouldn't be an issue. (If it is, you have an awesome commute to work!)

The simple addition front and rear fenders to your mountain bike will stop water and grime from the road splattering your clothing ensuring that you arrive at work clean and dry. While considered unsexy by some, fenders are considered essential equipment among regular bicycle commuters, or at least among those who like to arrive at work clean and dry.

Racks, Panniers and Baskets

As a bicycle commuter chances are you'll be carrying some luggage, be it a change of clothes, your lunch or your laptop, but riding with a backpack in the summer leaves you with a wet and sweaty back.

Fitting a rear rack to your bicycle gives you with a number of options for carrying your luggage. You can simply tie down your bag to the rack with an elastic strap, but this can be time consuming, awkward, and leave you dirty. Some bicycle commuters opt to use pannier bags, the type you see long distance bicycle tourists using. Despite modern attachment mechanisms, putting pannier bags on and off the bike can be a chore, and once you've got them off you have to lug them about which is why I've chosen to fit a folding basket to the side of my year rack. Something else that may work for you is a set of handlebars with an inbuilt basket.

With a basket I can cycle to work with any bag, backpack, brief case, or even a shopping bag, all I have to do is fold out the basket and dump it in. When it comes time to park I remove my luggage and fold the basket away so it doesn't take up valuable space in the bicycle parking lot. I find the basket a lot more versatile and convenient than panniers, but that's a personal choice.

A final, often overlooked, option for carrying luggage is the simple front, handlebar mounted, basket. These can be easily fitted and has ample space for whatever a bicycle commuter will need through out the day.


A bright pair of lights are a must for any bicycle commuter who finds themselves out after dark, and sticking to convention most bicycle commuters install a red rear facing light and a white front facing one. When it comes to bicycle lights options abound, battery operated, USB rechargeable and those with generators, from small flashing lights to ones more powerful than a car's headlight.

As the streets of Tokyo are generally well lit bicycle lights aren't required to see the road ahead, but rather to alert motorists of your presence on the road. Given this I have installed nothing but two small flashing LED lights from the local Y100 store to my handlebars. They're bright, have a good battery life, and cheap enough that I can leave them attached to the bike at all times without fear of theft. So cheap in fact that I carry a spare around in my backpack in case one is stolen or runs out of batteries in the ride home.

In contrast to my minuscule front lights I have quite a chunky rear facing light. As I can't see behind me to take evasive action I'm reliant on getting the motorists attention, therefore my tail light ranks right up their with those of a fire engine for brightness.

In Japan riding with a headlight at night is not only a good idea, it is required by law.

Reflective Tape and Stickers

Controversial, as many cyclists are religiously against high viz, but reflective tape is a great way to improve your visibility on the road at night for minimal cost. Such tape can be purchased at your local Y100 store, and I tend to place it on areas of my bike where it will not attract too much attention during the day, but shine brightly at night. I like to place some tabs of reflective tape on my cranks, as reflective items moving in ways a motorist isn't expecting are more likely to attract their attention.

If it doesn't offend your fashion sensibilities, I recommend some strategically placed reflective tape on any commuter bicycle.

A Good Maintenance Guide

While you're in the mood and working on your mountain bike is a perfect opportunity to perform some other preventative maintenance tasks and there is no better reference for mountain bike maintenance and repair than Zinn and the Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance. With the tips above and a few maintenance tasks out of the way your mountain bike will be the perfect commuter bike.

Bicycle makers will try and sell you a bicycle for every purpose, road bikes, mountain bikes, cross bikes, fat bikes, commuter bikes and now even gravel bikes are a thing. Don't fall for it. For much, much, less money the simple addition of narrow slick tires, fenders, a rack and some lights will turn your old mountain bike into a fresh new ride, perfect for commuting in the city.

Article posted by Byron Kidd.

For more stories, news and information about cycling in Tokyo and around Japan follow @tokyobybike on twitter.